No matter what other equipment or space you’re working in, few things go further to establishing the quality of a recording than the microphone you’ve selected for the job. And as anyone who’s had even a cursory glance at all the available microphones and companies to choose from knows, the sheer volume of available mics can be overwhelming. So we’ve set out to assuage that anxiety by highlight the 7 best microphone brands to be on the lookout for, whether you’re making your first investments in your home studio, or rounding out your growing mic locker.
Having worked for years as a sound engineer, I’ve been in studios with dizzying amounts of microphones to choose from. It’s important to understand the specificities of commonly used mics, but you won’t always know the specific frequency ranges or SPL-capacities of some of the lesser-known mics, so having a strong grasp on the most reliable brands, and their strengths and weaknesses, is essential for decision making in any environment.
The brand name isn’t everything when determining the quality of a product, but when it comes to microphones, these 7 brands that we’ve listed can be depended on for high-quality, reliable gear. Within each company, we’ll list their best and most sought after mics, for singing and vocals both in-studio and on-stage, as well as the best mics for recording in general.
Here are the names you need to have on top of your list
- Blue Microphone
- sE Electronics
- 1. BLUE Microphones: Great looking and great sounding mics
- 2. Audio-Technica: Versatile, robust and transparent mics
- 3. Sennheiser: Great performance for at-home recordists
- 4. Shure: The world’s most well-known brand
- 5. sE Electronics: Affordable and surprisingly capable newcomer
- 6. Neumann: The golden-era standard
- 7. AKG: Reliable studio workhorse mics
- Best microphone brands for singing, vocals, and recording
1. BLUE Microphones: Great looking and great sounding mics
If this was a list for the best looking microphone brands out there, hands down BLUE Microphones would be the runaway winner. Formed in 1995, they’ve developed an unmistakable design, and though the company might not have as long a history as some other brands on the list, Blue microphones have become staples in professional studios and homes in their relatively short existence.
BLUE (Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics) has found its niche in the market by excelling at the production of high-end condensers mics as well as more affordable USB microphones that have become very popular amongst podcasters and YouTubers. Producing for both markets at such high levels isn’t a feat that many other manufacturers manage to do, and BLUE does it in style with their flashy retro-inspired design.
They are highly versatile mics, but they’re known for being a particularly great microphone brand for vocals.
BLUE Baby Bottle
One of my favorite mics on the list, any opportunity I’ve had in the studio to work with this microphone, I’ve been blown away. The BLUE Baby Bottle is based on the original BLUE flagship studio microphone, the Bottle. The Bottle is a high-end vacuum tube condenser microphone with interchangeable “bottle caps” for a variety of tone options, and the Baby Bottle takes those same high-end tonal characteristics and packages them into one large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone at a fraction of the price.
It’s a very versatile microphone, whereas many studio microphones end up serving one or two specific purposes, but the Baby Bottle can effectively recording anything from acoustic guitar to vocals. It’s also a great option as a room mic for piano and small drum kits.
It’s not an ultra-modern, crisp sound of some of BLUE’s other mics, which isn’t a negative at all, it has a profile of smoother highs, similar to desirable ribbon mic tones, a bit of warmth from a mic like this helps to provide a bit of glue to recordings.
Whereas you’ll find the Baby Bottle in home studios as much as professional ones, the Kiwi is aimed specifically to be a studio workhorse. The Kiwi is the solid-state FET counterpart to the tube-powered Bottle.
Tube technology is how all condenser mics used to be powered, it’s part of the reason older recordings have the sound characteristics and saturated sound that they do. They’re still a popular option in studios for chasing that warm vintage tone, but they require intensive upkeep and tend to be quite a bit more expensive. The Kiwi is a solid-state alternative that does well at reproducing similar tube tones.
The solid-state Kiwi has distinguished itself as a premier option for recording vocals in studios. It has a whopping 9 polar patterns to choose from, including cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8, which not only affect how the source and room ambiance is picked up in the recording but also determines the mic’s sensitivity to high-end frequencies, letting the user dial in the tone dependent on the singer.
The Spark is a great example of BLUE’s crossover appeal to professional studios and at-home musicians and recordists looking to expand their creative space.
You’ll find similar characteristics to the Baby Bottle with the Spark, both have a focus on pristine signal path and versatility. There is a 100Hz high-pass filter to filter out any weird hums or unwieldy guitar amps, and the -20dB pad expands the dynamic range of what you’re able to record.
Pads on condenser microphones are especially helpful for recording louder sources. Dynamic microphones have much lower sensitivity, condenser mics are inherently more sensitive to high-SPL (sound-pressure level) environments, making distortion much likelier when recording high volume sources. A pad is important to look out for if needed when buying a condenser, it reduces sensitivity and makes it easier to record something loud like a guitar amp.
The Spark is geared to work well with USB-powered at-home interfaces and has a transparent, detailed sound profile, good for recording a variety of sources, like vocals, drum heads, and electric guitars.
The Yeti is the mic that has brought BLUE microphones prominently into the homes of creative content producers everywhere. Omnipresent on youtube creator channels, and for good reason—it looks great, its sound quality is hight, has built-in USB functionality, and is an affordable option for achieving professional-quality voice recordings.
It has a very neat Smart-Knob, allowing for fine-tuning and mixing on the actual mic. You can adjust Gain, Headphone Level, and its Blend Modes offer on mic metering so that you can easily make sure the levels are being maintained while recording.
The Yeti’s stereo mode, on top of the available cardioid, omnidirectional and bidirectional modes, is a unique feature for simplifying stereo image options when recording multiple sources. It’s very versatile and has BLUE microphone’s pristine sound quality, which is why it’s become touted as one of the best microphones for recording vocals. See here for a comparison of Blue Yeti with Rode NT.
2. Audio-Technica: Versatile, robust and transparent mics
In contrast to BLUE, Audio-Technica is a company with a wide focus outside of just microphones. Headphones and turntables have been as important to the company since its inception in the 60s. It wasn’t until the 90s that A-T introduced their first microphone to their catalog, and since then, A-T mics are found everywhere, used by audio recordists in every industry imaginable due to their reliability and wide range of types of mics they manufacture.
There’s a lot to choose from when highlighting the best microphone offerings from Audio-Technica. Having used a wide range of mics over the years, A-T remains one of my most used brands for their clear and consistent frequency profiles, and especially for how rugged their entire range of mics are. Even their condenser mics can handle a variety of environments, with lower than average sensitivity meaning they can handle higher SPL ranges, and rugged construction.
With the proliferation of the podcasting and youtube creators this decade, large-diaphragm microphones have been finding their way into more homes than ever. The demand is up for affordable, sturdy mics that can function well in less-than-pristine environments outside of traditional studios.
That’s why the AT2020 has been such a popular option for the home recordist. The buyer doesn’t have to make tradeoffs between the sturdiness and affordability of the dynamic microphone, or the frequency range of the condenser micrphone, this mic offers the best of both worlds.
It has consistently high customer reviews, for its sound quality and high signal-to-noise ratio, making it a great choice for at-home recordist.
This mic is a classic rugged condenser found throughout professional studios. The AT4050, like other Audio-Technica condenser mics, has high-SPL capabilities, giving engineers the option for a wider frequency range on loud sources like a guitar amp or a drum overhead. It’s great for loud rock vocals as well.
It has 3 switchable polar patterns, omni-, cardioid and figure-of-eight, an 80Hz high-pass filter and 10 dB pad, allowing it to function well for a variety of sources. This mic embodies the positive characteristics of A-T mics, a condenser that essentially never produces low-frequency distortion, but still is responsive enough to deliver clear highs.
With the AT2300, we reach our first dynamic microphone on the list. Even with A-T producing robust condenser mics, the need for cardioid dynamic mics in studios is needed to isolate sound from snare drums and guitar amps.
The AT2300 is most similar to another cardioid dynamic microphone, the Shure SM57. Its performance is on-par with what’s probably the most well-known mic of all time, with an even more pronounced high-end.
It’s forgiving in multi-mic setups, due to its frequency is almost identical at 0, 90 and 180 degrees. That means that its sound profile remains neutral at almost any axis-positioning, and phasing issues, when used with other mics, is essentially non-existent.
Great for in the studio, or on stages for its isolation, don’t overlook the AT2300.
Audio-Technica PRO 37
And next is our first small-diaphragm microphone, the PRO 37. Applications for the small-diaphragm mic might be more limited than a large-diaphragm or dynamic microphone, but they’re no less important, essential for capturing the high-end for any recording.
It’s common for small-diaphragm condenser mics like this to be used in a stereo pair, the PRO 37 is great for that. High-SPL capabilities and a cardioid polar pattern mean it serves as great room mics in a stereo pair, capturing transients of drums, acoustic guitar or piano very well.
3. Sennheiser: Great performance for at-home recordists
Chances are, a Sennheiser would be one of the first microphones in any recordist’s collection, and they’ll remain reliable go-to in any mic locker. They were for me, and I’ve continued over the years to return to Sennheiser mics for their consistent sound quality and performance in a multitude of recording situations.
Similar to Audio-Technica, Sennheiser has was one of the early producers of consumer headphones, and they’ve also produced a catalog of microphones that have become staples in professional studios, as well as on Hollywood sets, such as with its MKH 416 short shotgun mic.
High-SPL capacities and focused cardioid polar patterns to reduce feedback and isolate sounds, you’ll find Sennheisers often used by on-location broadcasters, at home creators, or spot miking drum sets and guitar amps on stage. Sennheiser is one of the best brands for recording and live performance.
Sennheiser MD 421 II
Starting with Sennheiser’s most popular mic is the MD 421 II. It’s a cardioid dynamic microphone with pronounced directivity, making it great at avoiding feedback and isolating sources.
It’s a great option for home studios as well, typically a bit more expensive than other cardioid dynamic mics, but not without reason, it has a wider frequency response than most, you’ll find it captures clearer bass tones than say, the SM57. And it’s 5-position bass-roll off switch lets the user lock-in the tone on the mic itself.
If you need a mic that can record guitar cabs, drum head, and rock vocals equally well, look no further than the MD 421 II.
Sennheiser MD 441 U
Another dynamic microphone from Sennheiser, the MD 441 U has achieved legendary status amongst studio professionals for its accuracy and versatility. The accuracy is achieved by its super-cardioid polar position, 2-position high-frequency switch, and a 5-position low-frequency contour switch. The added focused directivity of the super-cardioid pattern helps the recordist use different angles to capture the exact frequencies desired from the source.
Dynamic mics can be great for capturing a clear and precise mid-range, and the MD 441 U justifies the cost by providing unmatched tone-shaping options for a dynamic microphone. It’s a great option for any instrument that needs particular frequencies accented in the mix, like drum heads and rhythm guitars.
Sennheiser EW 100 G4-835-S
This wouldn’t be a complete list without highlighting a wireless microphone for live performance. The Sennheiser EW 100 G4-835-S fits the bill.
It’s based on the technology the very popular Sennheiser e800 series, widely-used handheld dynamic vocal mics. It has a 300’ transmission range and up to 8 hours of battery life. It can link up to 12 receivers, with 1680 selectable frequencies, so it eliminates any chance of interference.
And as any mic used live should be, it’s rugged and has a tight cardioid pattern to reduce ambient noise and feedback.
Here we have the Sennheiser e609, a mic I’ve used on many occasions, each time with fantastic results. It’s a dynamic microphone that was built to serve essentially one function, miking guitar cabinets.
It’s been designed in a way that accentuates the best qualities of a guitar amp as if you’re in the room. Amps can be quite difficult to recreate accurately in the mix, but the e609 does a brilliant job of having the prefect frequency response to do so.
It has very high SPL capacities, so it’s ideal for miking high-wattage amps on stage, and a flat grill design and a super-cardioid pattern so you can get it as close to the source as possible, completely isolating it from any other on-stage sound.
Positioning when it comes to guitar amps is vital in any recording scenario. Where the mic sits in relation to the speaker cone completely dictates the tone captured, so the design of the mic itself and how easily it can sit in different positions near the cabinet is a big bonus for any dynamic microphone.
4. Shure: The world’s most well-known brand
Now we come to what’s probably the most well-known microphone brand for consumers and professionals alike, Shure. They’ve carved out that spot in the market for the way they’ve managed to bring professional-grade microphones to at-home creators and professional engineers alike, all at affordable prices, its been a surefire recipe for success.
One of the longest-running audio companies as well, started in 1925 as a supplier of radio parts, Shure has manufactured just about every type of equipment in audio, from headphones to phonograph cartridges, but its microphone division is a big part of why it endures as one of the biggest audio companies in the world.
It’s hard to pick one flagship mic from Shure, but if you had to, the SM57 would be the one. This has undoubtedly shaped the recorded sound of snare drums in particular as we’ve come to know it. Both in the studio and on-stage, SM57s are the go-to for capturing mid-range of (usually loud) sources in reliable and predictable ways.
In all my experience as a sound engineer, I’ve used an SM57 in a wider range of situations than probably any other mic. It has a very pleasing sound profile, and the perfect fallback for me when I’m struggling to find the right frequency profile from a different mic. They can also take their fair share of drumstick hits without getting near to breaking, undoubtedly another reason for its prolonged prominence and use across every venue in the world.
You won’t get the broadest frequency range out of these, but that’s not always what’s most important when recording. It has a locked-in mid-range, it is sturdy, and can reproduce high-volumes with accuracy, which is why they persist as one of the most used microphones in the world.
The immediate sibling to the SM57, they might just be identical twins in different clothes. There’s been much pontificating about the actual difference between the SM57 and SM58, but you’ll notice that the Shure SM58 has found itself in front of the most famous speakers and vocalists of all time.
It may just be a difference in the grill between the SM57 and Shure SM58, but for the same reason the SM57 is a go-to for kits and amps, the SM58 is a reliable workhorse for wide-ranging audio environments.
The round grill on the Shure SM58 at the very least prevents more aggressive singers from swallowing the mic whole, but the reduced proximity to the diaphragm of the mic also means it’s more forgiving in terms of placement from the source. It’s a great mic for capturing the vocals of loud rock singers.
The SM7b is still a dynamic microphone, but it’s designed for broader frequency capture, and the sound profile tends to accentuate the low-end a bit more than an SM57. It may be a dynamic microphone, but it has a great low end more typical of a large-diaphragm condenser, with the advantages of the ruggedness of a dynamic microphone.
This particular mic is found in broadcast studios around the world, it loves to be close-miked right up to the speaker, with great presence, and bass roll-off controls to allow to be customized to the source. And being a dynamic microphone, it tends to be less unwieldy than condenser mics, a high signal-to-noise ratio meaning it does well reducing ambient noise in a range of environments.
Shure Beta 52A
The Shure Beta 52A is a mic that serves one purpose but serves that purpose very well. It’s one of the preeminent kick drum mics for in-studio and on-stage that you’ll see.
As soon as you start to expand your mic locker and record different sources, you’ll realize how important having a mic like this is. Good luck sticking an SM57 on a kick drum, or a sensitive condenser mic anywhere near your drummer’s feet—a dynamic microphone with a tailored frequency response to bass is vital for bringing to life a full mix.
The Beta 52A has a super-cardioid pattern so it’s great for isolating the kick from the other drums, and it has a built-in stand adaptor next to the XLR input, which when it comes to capturing low frequencies, is very helpful for reducing vibrations.
You won’t be limited to just recording a kick with this though, the Beta 52A sounds great on a bass amp or low brass as well.
5. sE Electronics: Affordable and surprisingly capable newcomer
sE Electronics is one of the more recently established brands we’ll highlight, and since their founding in the early 2000s, they’ve offered a range from affordable but above-average quality, to more expensive hand-made, high-end microphones that have become popular for recording.
Characterized early on as an average budget brand, they’ve shed that label by highlighting the family-owned, hand-made aspects of the business, and have developed some high-quality, great looking microphones, some of the best for vocals and singers that you’ll find.
As an engineer, I’m always on the lookout for new exciting companies with unique offerings, and sE Electronics is certainly one of those.
The Voodoo VR2 was an interesting prospect from sE Electronics. A ribbon mic with the extended high-end range of a condenser mic, which on the face of it, seems a bit counter-intuitive, but the result is an extended high-end sound quality that still retains the smoothness found in ribbon mics.
Typically, a ribbon mic will have smoothed-out highs, giving the source added low-end warmth, a great option for guitar-amps, and stringed instruments that can be a bit buzzy in the high-end. That can sometimes make vocals or acoustic guitar somewhat dull-sounding when not used in the proper context, but the Voodoo VR2 solves that problem by adding some high-end clarity, yet retaining the overall smooth sound.
The result is a mic that’s great for guitar cabs, acoustic instruments, and vocals alike.
The sE2200 is a great option for recordists making the leap from dynamic mics to their first condenser. It’s attractively priced enough for the non-professional market, has a classic design reminiscent of hall-of-fame vocal tube mics, and as a large-diaphragm condenser, it can serve many purposes in a home studio.
It’s become known for its low-noise and has the essential -10 dB and -20 dB pads to reduce excessive bass when close-miking the source. It’s an option to considering when taking the step up for home recording vocals, acoustic instruments, and piano.
It’s also worth highlighting sE Electronics’ other large-diaphragm condenser mic that’s next on the affordability scale, the X1 S. It’s another option for getting more out of your home studio, specifically vocals.
It utilizes the same technologies you’ll find in much more expensive large-diaphragm mics, with two different pads and two low cut filters. They’re well-crafted, versatile mics that are well worth the investment.
6. Neumann: The golden-era standard
From the newest, most consumer-focused brand on the list, we go to the oldest, most-renowned microphone brand amongst studio professionals and collectors, Neumann. You’ll find vintage Neumann mics available at the price of a new car, but we’ll highlight their contemporary mics that still represent the pinnacle of brands for recording vocals and so much more.
The German manufacturer’s microphones can be heard all over White Album-era Beatles recordings and countless others from the time, and the mics have endured as some of the best sounding across broadcast and recording to this day. It’s hard to truly describe how much a Nuemann can elevate a recording, they’re the first mic I pick when I’m setting up my sessions, and the price reflects their quality.
Neumann U 87 Ai
The U 87 Ai is the modern reissue of one of Neumann’s most classic large-diaphragm condenser mics, the U 87. The U 87 was the gold standard for 50 years in the studio for good reason, they represent the entire frequency range exceptionally, without any range being too pronounced, and they maintain a unique smoothness.
It’s versatile as well, best-known for vocals but it makes a great room mic too, with 3 polar patterns to choose from: cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8. I’ve set this mic up in countless stereo and room pairings to great effect, they may be a large-diaphragm, but they reproduce every frequency very well.
Neumann TLM 102
For the (relatively) more affordable microphone that can be applied on many similar scenarios to the U 87 Ai, comes the TLM 102. It’s perhaps more widely-utilized due to the price point, but it offers the same warmth and depth-of-tone that Neumann is known for. It sacrifices a bit of clarity of the U 87 Ai, sounding a bit rounder, but that’s only after comparing it to one of the top mics ever, the TLM 102 remains one of the best mics out there.
It has a smaller profile than other large-diaphragm condensers, but the streamlined design doesn’t sacrifice any tone. It’s has a very silky, yet pronounced mid-range, making it one of the best microphones for vocals, for either the male or female voice. It doesn’t have the functionality of choosing from different polar patterns, which helps to keep the cost down, but that doesn’t limit how effective it is at recording vocals, guitar cabs, drums and a range of other instruments.
Neumann KM 184
We shift from Neumann’s large-diaphragm mics to its best known small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone, the KM 184. It’s an exceptionally transparent mic, if you have the fortune of being able to record them in a stereo pair, you’ll be able to reproduce pianos, drums, and strings with incredible accuracy.
They produce very low self-noise, which is important for having the option of miking further from the source with increased gain, you do not want a noisy signal to make room recordings unusable. They can also handle a lot of noise with a high dynamic range, especially for a small-diaphragm mic.
7. AKG: Reliable studio workhorse mics
Creating its first microphone in 1953, AKG has been making studio workhorse mics since. This is especially demonstrated through their creation of the world’s first dynamic cardioid microphone, one of the most essential types of mics to the world of recording.
AKG has gone on to create dynamic mics for recording kick drums, high-end tube mics, and some of the most versatile condenser mics used by studio professionals. Just about every session I’ve ever recorded drums, I’ve made sure that I’ve had a least one AKG to lock in the tone.
AKG C 414 XLII
First up is AKG’s best known and best microphone for recording vocals, the C 414 XLII. It has a huge 9 polar patterns to choose from, 3 different attenuation pads, and 3 low-cut filters, meaning that there’s no scenario that this mic won’t excel in.
It uses AKG’s most advanced, high-quality material to manufacture its components, and has a classic boxy look with a gold grill. And no tone is lost amongst the different filter settings that it provides, it has a great sound quality, with a slightly pronounced upper mid-range, which is why it’s a favorite amongst microphones for vocals.
AKG D 112
Our second dynamic kick-drum mic on the list is the D 112. It’s just as widely used as the Shure Beta 52, and is typically described as more forgiving. It has a cardioid polar pattern as opposed to the Beta 52’s super-cardioid pattern, so mic-placement isn’t going to dictate the tone quite as much.
It also comes in with a higher frequency-range, at 20 – 17000 Hz, in contrast to the Beta 52’s 20 – 10000 Hz, so the tone will be slightly wider, even when focused on the kick drum. Given how focused the kick drum needs to be in the mix, that is usually shaved off when mixing anyways, but we do find the Beta 52 to be slightly boxier sounding, making the D 112 another great microphone for recording kick drums and bass amps.
With robust construction, a low self-noise profile and a high SPL capacity, the AKG P420 is a microphone that’s as useful in the studio as it is on stage. It’s an affordable large-diaphragm condenser mic for use with an instrument that has wide frequency ranges, like piano, small ensembles, and drums.
It has a selection of 3 polar patterns to choose from, cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8, adding to its versatility. It won’t be dropping any jaws, but AKG creates exceptionally reliable, sturdy mics, and whoever is in the market for a new large-diaphragm condenser microphone at an affordable range, should certainly consider the P420.
Best microphone brands for singing, vocals, and recording
Whether you are just starting with recording at home studio, looking for a better sound for your live performances, or working on building out your mic locker at your professional studio, the need for recording equipment is constantly growing. Luckily for you and me, that means that more brands are creating more varieties of microphones than ever, for specific needs and within a wider range of affordability than ever.
New companies like BLUE offer some of the most high-end, expensive and best microphones for recording vocals on the list, yet they’ve also developed entry-level consumer microphones at quality levels previously unseen in that range. Neumann has proven with their flagships mics that in 2019, they’re just as vital as ever to the high-end market of recording.
sE Electronics have brought new diversity of the types of microphones available for those on tighter budgets. Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and AKG have all developed microphones that remain staples in studios across the world, each having in their catalogs microphones considering the best microphones for recording.
Shure continues to stand alone with how widely their microphones are used by professionals and consumers across every industry. Whether in studios, at home or on stage, Shure’s prominence in recording endures. The Sure SM58 is the perfect example for this.
There’s no one metric for determining what makes the “best” microphones, so it’s important to consider what will work best for your needs, rather than finding one microphone to solve all of your recording problems.
Remember to always consider what it is you’re recording, whether it’s a kick drum or voice, and what frequencies need to be best accentuated by the microphone. Loudness and studio environment are just as important, and of course, affordability is an ever-present consideration no matter what level you’re at.
Hopefully, this list will shed some light on how to find the best brands and microphones for your studio or live performances!